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Stage left

Three years ago Nigel Barnett acquired a Hillman Imp Californian, a car which had been in his family since new. Although a little tatty, it was basically rust-free and good enough to be used in autotests, trials and 12-car rallies over the ensuing couple of years. The owner’s burning ambition, however, was to return to stage rallying after many years’ lay off and historic rallying seemed to provide the answer.

The first step was to join the Historic Rally Car Register which organises historic rallying. On examination of the regulations, it was found that the Californian was eligible for the pre ’68 class, examples of which must have been used in contemporary international rallies. If the car had been manufactured between the beginning of 1968 and pre ’74, then the car itself would have needed an international rally history in order to be eligible.

Performance modifications are fairly free at present, but they must correspond with what could have been carried out at the time the cars were originally rallied. A V8 engine was therefore out! In Barnett’s case, the car was lowered by the use of Monte Carlo springs all round and Spax adjustable shock absorbers. An Imp Sport cam and exhaust on the otherwise standard engine completed the modifications in this low budget effort.

Safety modifications were attended to more comprehensively. A full FIA roll cage with diagonal and door bars, which cost £90 secondhand, was fitted with the mounting plates mig welded to the floor. Two Corbeau GT8 high back seats and full harnesses followed. Fire-proofing was well attended to as standard but as the fuel tank was located in the boot, no further protection was needed. A first aid kit and two borrowed 2.5 kg fire extinguishers as well and it was off to the local RAC scrutineer for an RAC Stage Rally log book.

A navigator was the next essential and friend Paul Marshall, who had ended his last event 10 years ago wrapped around a tree, was contacted. Having received assurances that there were no trees in Weston Park, the venue of first event, he willingly agreed. In fact the Mike Spence Historic Rally at Weston Park is one of the main events in the Historic Car Register’s calendar and even uses part of the RAC rally stage.

On arrival at the event, the first port of call was the noise test where instructions to rev the engine to 5000 rpm proved difficult to obey since there was no rev counter! Scrutineering revealed no problems and after signing on, the crew was ready to go. There were four stages to complete, the last three with a watersplash and the final stage had a mile of “loose” added. The car went well but as it lacked power with only

45 bhp at its disposal the longish straights were too much of an unequal struggle.

As a result the pair finished 33rd overall and third in class, not bad for a car which cost £200 to get to the starting line. The event itself was won by Woolley/Woolley in a 2-litre Vitesse from Smith/Matthews in a Mk 1 Cortina.

Historic rallying is probably one of the most enjoyable of club motorsports, one of the pleasures, apart from the low cost of competing and the friendly atmosphere, being the selection of cars competing and the chance of seeing them being driven competitively. Further information can be obtained from Martin Jubb, Competition Secretary, Historic Rally Car Register, 38 Longfield Road, St. Andrews, Bristol, BS7 9AG. WPK

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